Our Cars : Project 75 – The coming of (old) age?

Mike Humble hits a milestone and decides enough is enough with changing cars akin to changing razor blades. The project 75 seems to be here to stay!

My 75 Club SE - The finest car I have owned, without a shadow of doubt!

 A carriage clock charm of it’s own

According to the phrase ‘life begins at 40’ but I can truly say that I feel no different to when I was 39. While most of the world celebrated Valentine’s Day – I turned 40, but the lead up to it was quite a worrying experience. The feeling of woe and doom crept up on me about a week beforehand, but to be honest, I have no idea what the fuss was all about. My mum and close friends will confirm the sentiment that I was born an old man, and a good friend always laughs when I use the term ‘wireless’ instead of radio, but the real evidence comes in the form of the cars I have owned or adored over the years.

When yours truly was 17 and by rights, should have been smoking around in an Escort Mk2 or Cortina, I rattled and clanked around in an Ital 1.7 estate – I appreciated that added practicality and space even as a teenager, though I did add some sporting touches in the form of some twin tone horns. The Cortina did play a major role soon after, and will state here and now that my 1982 2.3-litre Ghia excelled as a mobile bedroom some 20 years ago. To get the picture, just add a quiet lane, removal of the headrests and a Level 42 cassette – who cares of both of you still lived at each others parent’s. Obviously, I failed to learn from the Ital I owned which required a brace of rear axles and a gearbox, as many Austin Rover models subsequently leaked oil onto my parent’s driveway during those adolescent years.

Some past cars have been brilliant, but some have also been complete trash, the Ital for example was a dreadful car, but I loved it too. I reckon it’s the English way of always backing the underdog that’s makes me come back for more. Saying that, out of all the cars I have owned, the Fiat 127 Sport I battled with for a short while was by far, the most appalling and unreliable heap I ever suffered the misfortune of holding the keys to. Handling and performance wise, only my well-fettled Mini came close for sheer ear to ear joy, but in terms of reliability? Forget it. The exhaust snapped off, the wiring for high beam burned out, the accelerator cable snapped (twice) and in the end I lost patience and scrapped it, but looking back on it, I manage a fond smile.

Some AR cars which were known for their share of horror stories gave me no real problems; I owned a 1990 Montego 1.6LX for a short while and found it to be an accomplished motorway cruiser as well as being frugal on the juice too. The K-plate Montego diesel estate was also an excellent car, often racking up the thick end of 650 miles before the fuel lamp came on. A surprising car came in the form of a 1996 Rover 115SD in tea pot blue, which cost me and my parents (of which I sold it on to) nothing to run except a battery and a set of glow plugs. I have also owned three R8 Rovers too, a pair of SEi models and an early 214SLi, to this day, I have maximum respect for the R8, a car which at launch beat the best of them all – even the Germans!

Over the years, I have even tried my hand at retro classics too; an X plate Dolomite 1500HL was my everyday car for a little while. Acres of walnut and carpet with that cute little overdrive switch on the gear knob; the Dolly is a car I have adored for more years than I care to mention. A former history teacher owned a brown 1850HL as did my friend’s dad from down Suffolk way and I vowed that one day I would own a Dolomite. At the same time, I owned a racing green 214SEi, so when the flywheel literally ‘fell off’ the Dolomites engine, a lack of time and space caused me to sell it onwards to an enthusiast – of which I bitterly regretted afterwards. The Dolomite was also by far, the most entertaining car in my ownership – for the wrong reasons.

Once the car was warmed up, by revving the engine and flicking the key off and on, the car would backfire like nothing else and shoot a yellow flame from the pea shooter exhaust. Imagine the fun of driving past a theatre at 10.00pm kick out time and watching 500 people jump for their lives on the pavement as you trundle by in a backfiring pageant blue Dolomite.

Once this trick was discovered, I seized every opportunity to cause racket and noise. Be it heaving town centres on market day, terraced streets and even a married couple with family and friends having the obligatory photo shoot outside the church; all suffered the might of the Dolomite’s party trick. Often, you would have to park up and compose yourself owing to uncontrollable laughter.

Keith Adams told me the Rover 75 was a carriage clock of a car - I was inspired to experiment.

Well, after many other smokers, both pool and private including Sierras, Peugeot 406s and even a pair of Lada Rivas, I have come to the conclusion that my current motor, the 75 Club SE is quite possibly the best car I have owned this side of a SAAB 9000. It’s not rapid – more leisurely, the styling is more carriage clock charm than Rolex and the overall driving experience is akin to slumbering in front of an open fire, I’m starting to regard my 75 as being the automotive chocolate Labrador. So far, it’s been 4000 miles of motoring bliss and I have had enough of chopping and changing cars, that’s that! – The 75 is here to stay. Besides, I like carriage clocks and open fires, and I find it staggering the way a 75 seems to de-stress the body and mind.

This all hit home on my way back from work just yesterday. During the day, I could feel myself failing, succumbing to a monumental cold of which all the signs were there – aching joints, sore throat and a muggy head. I felt awful, and if it couldn’t get worse, I had a 25 mile drive home too. Sliding into the cockpit and turning the key, I set off into the dark feeling like death warmed up. What struck me as being odd was the way the car seemed to take on an uncanny nursing feeling. Just as you would expect with a K-Series, the interior of the car was as snug and warm as a log cabin at a precise 26 degrees within a few minutes. The ornate dials backlit with that sumptuous almost ember glow effect being a welcoming sight for tired sore eyes.

The 1.8-litre K-Series - 4000 post-HG upgrade miles.

Activating the in lounge wireless combo, I fancied some Classic FM to work as Ovaltine for my ears, and I was treated to a favourite piece of music by Gustav Holst’s Planet Suite – Jupiter bringer of jollity, though the way I was feeling, Saturn would have been more apt – Holst fans will get the gag. The comfort of the seat, the serene nature of the ride and the superb heating system made me appreciate what a damn fine car the 75 really is, nothing seems to be a compromise and it’s the next most comfortable place to be after my King size bed. Fuel consumption remains near 40mpg, no usage of oil or water, in fact only this week has been the first occasion I have put air in the tyres. I can report one very minor issue with the car however.

Ever since doing the preventative head gasket job and strip down, there has been the slightest of partial throttle flat spot at mid revs. Many drivers wouldn’t notice it and my long suffering `er indoors has never mentioned anything either, but something is there. Nothing comes up on OBD2 but fellow Rover tech Patrick Warner down the road at Sterling Automotive in Eastbourne has kindly offered to scan the old girl on the T4 programme and supply a Flavia coffee before it develops into anything sinister.

The service history shows its been some time since its had any O.E software attention so we are thinking it may be something daft like a stepper motor out of calibration – a far cry from the days of cleaning points on an Ital at the side of the road using the girlfriends nail file eh?

I’ll keep you posted of the outcome.

Mike Humble


  1. I liked your previous report Mike and this one reinforces it.
    Partly on the strength of what you say I’ve chopped in my 11 year old 138,000 mile Saab 95 estate for a 32000 mile facelift 75 tourer. It is a lovely car for all the reasons you have described.
    I wish I could get 40mpg though! I think I’m only getting 23 mpg at present! Mine is a 1.8 auto without the turbo. It is a bit pedestrian but I think that probably suits it. I do miss the KV6 I had in an MG ZS prior to the Saab. The Saab struggled to better 23 mpg around town too. The other disappointment with the auto is the emissions, road tax is £260!
    At least the armchair ambience makes up for it (in part)!

  2. “my 1982 2.3-litre Ghia excelled as a mobile bedroom some 20 years ago. To get the picture, just add a quiet lane, removal of the headrests and a Level 42 cassette – who cares of both of you still lived at each others parent’s”

    Way too much information Mike!

    Nice to see that you had what I consider to be the best R8 version – the SEi.

    Excellent report as always Mike. Keep ’em coming!

  3. Mike, I hit the big 4-0 next week (28th Feb) – I can’t wait! I’m looking forward to life beginning again! (Although, like you, I was always older than my years – so I’m probably correctly year-matched now!) Enjoy!

  4. Oh yes, Level 42! I went to see them in Concert at Hitchin, around 1983 (ish).

    They sounded a whole lot better in the studio than they did live!

  5. Carriage Clock Analogy – Would have been much improved had you found an actual carriage clock to photograph stood on the dashboard!

    Anyway, you don’t have to be old to be sold on the virtues of the 75…I had one at 23. Nor do you need to be old to appreciate the ambiance of that interior. There was certainly a shift in my driving attitude when in a 75…it just seems to relax you, and with 60 miles a day on the M62 – that’s something you appreciate.

  6. @John – I’ve seen the mighty Lev 3 times now – 1st time in Newcastle in the early 90s, when they were just about still having hit records – and they were dire. However, fast-forward 10 or so years, and I saw them again in around 2007, and they kicked butt! Obviously time has matured them and made the band and sound engineers realise that an older audience might be listening to them on decent hi-fi systems rather than Amstrad stuff. Check them out next time they play live – you won’t be disappointed. Sorry for the off-topic rant – the mighty Lev is one of my guiltiest of musical passions!

  7. “Once the car was warmed up, by revving the engine and flicking the key off and on, the car would backfire like nothing else and shoot a yellow flame from the pea shooter exhaust. Imagine the fun of driving past a theatre at 10.00pm kick out time and watching 500 people jump for their lives on the pavement as you trundle by in a backfi ring pageant blue Dolomite.”
    In the mid 80s I did a stint working at Avis at GatwickI did the same as above in a Sierra estate between the car parksin the north terminal,sounded good but when some guy came running over to me saying he heard a gun going of I thought it was time for me to get going!.

  8. Haha, I am still laughing at the misfiring dolomite!

    In fact I can’t recall the last time I heard a car backfire? Reminds me though of my brother timing a rover V8 wrong, the resulting backfire had the neighbours rushing to see what happened, and to look at the resultant split back box!

  9. Was that clock on the Rover 75 options list?;)

    I agree that you never seem to hear cars backfiring anymore, is it something to do with engine management systems or that they all have CATs fitted?

  10. Mike, my mk2 ZT 190 would defineately share the acolade with your Fiat as the worse car I’ve ever had the keys too. Maybe I’m just unlucky and bought a particularly bad car but I’ve just fitted it’s THIRD intake manifold,(500 quid each) closely following a new clutch, fuel pump, headlamps, windscreen and boot rubbers, heater motor, the list goes on. 54000 miles only, serviced regularly, driven carefuly and 1 owner. It would seem your 75 and mine are quite opposite. The worse of it is I’m stuck with it as no dealer wants to touch it in px nor could I sell it privately, so I just drive the hound waiting for the next bit to drop off, constantly trying to borrow my wif’s Mini. Possibly the worst car purchase in the history of car purchasing. Oh and I’ve given up replacing MG badges every 6 months.

  11. I agree with your feelings Mike.
    I own an 2003 MG ZT and it’s probably the best car I ever had compared with for instance some Peugeots and Citroens I had before. No noises in the doors or in dashboards. No noises in the front suspension. This MG ZT is absolutely fantastic. It’s my everyday car and I hope to keep it for a very long time. I had some years ago a Rover 620 wich was very reliable too but the MG ZT has a little more.

  12. I think the flat spot might be a feature of the car.When i jump from my zs120 to my zt120 i often think there is something wrong with the engine.The zt/75 is very heavy and the gearing (no close ratio gearbox)doesnt help.The 1800 is very torquey but is no substute for a proper four cylinder two litre.

  13. Mike, and indeed Simon, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, nowt changes!

    Turned 40 back in December, and despite the big 4 0 jibes for most of the previous year, everything is still exactly the same. So far life hasn’t begun! 😆

  14. I have been sniffing around a very low mileage 2001 (51) 75 2.0 V6…and tempted, until I saw the price of a 12 month tax disc!

  15. Mike… the Roewe 750 & MG7 featured in Keith’s Kuwaiti article owe their heritage to fine cars like your 75. Isn’t it a great shame a successor to the 75 is not built in the UK? Hope your’s continues to give good service.

  16. Have to say that’s a lovely clock but it’s a MANTLE clock not a carriage clock… 🙂 Loving reading about the R75 though, am becoming very tempted…

  17. @Rob C – 4-0 it’s what you make it! For me it’s the wake up call I needed to tell me that I’m not immortal. Mid-life crisis? You bet! I don’t want to end up like my parents!!

  18. Know what you mean, Mike. Driving the 75 is so relaxing. A great de-stress after a day at work – I may climb aboard feeling wound up by my boss but after just a mile or so thoughts of work are fading!!

    40 mpg after a long run on open road, yes but overall,no. Mine is the 1.8 n/a too.

  19. **Stop Press**

    I have decided the on board clock upgrade is a failure…

    It keeps falling into `er indoors lap and the full Westminster chime every 15 minutes ruins listening to “The Archers”

  20. @ adam, comment 17 – Are the MG badges falling off, or being swiped? If the latter, equip yourself with biro, torch, cricket bat and change of ownership papers, and wait up one night. Voila, problem solved…. errr, offloaded onto the badge swipers. And you will have cured their anti-social pilfering habits, as they will now be replete with MG badges of their own!

    Just be careful not to nudge the back bumper with the cricket bat, or the timing belt will drop off 😉

  21. I’m sticking to my guns and getting one of these. Would suit me perfectly, seeming as I was born about 67 lol!

  22. I love my 75. It gives the feeling of taking care of me. Its always welcoming and a lovely place to be! Its so comfortable and I would only replace it with another. I have 2001 xj sport and a 1998 range rover too but I use the rover for my 80 mile commute. It’s more relaxing and calming.

  23. The 75 should have had a thatched roof as an option, and a wood burning stove for a heater. It was the choice of car for the senile retired person, who clearly knew nothing about cars. I notice you had Dinosaur FM on the wireless too LOL.

    My dad is in his 60s and has the local dance station as the main pre-set. He’s a senile delinquent

  24. I thought it was a BR clock Mike, thanks for the confirmation. Out of interest what did your late Grandfather do for the Railways?

  25. Marty B – Comment 38

    I absolutely love my 75 and I’m neither retired or senile – bloody cheek!!

    It can only ever be replaced by another 75 – just need to find the right car to keep ‘on ice’ and the funds. Then I can start running it when my current 75 passes away.

    Wen ich ti varl hetter…! Spelling probably incorrect, but to understand what I mean, view the 800 Fastback advert on You Tube – the one based in Germany.

  26. 75s are worth all of 10p to the trade now, so if Mike wanted to try and flog it, he would struggle anyway. They are all starting to get to that age where even minor repairs are a ‘more than it is worth’ job, especially if its head gasket does its impersonation of a Dairylea slice. They are firmly in banger territory now. And I do stand by the old gifferness of the 75. That was the target market for all Rovers for donkeys years. The mantle clock Mike put in, along with Classic on the ‘wireless’ was Mike clearly doing a sarcastic nod to the olde worlde style of the 75. It was a car that looked 50 years old when launched, just like the awful S Type Jag, and it dated very quickly, but Rover didn’t have the cash to give the car a modern looking re-shell to compete with BM & Merc, and really in that class RWD is still king. Front wheel drive doesn’t cut the mustard in the mid range exec.

  27. Well marty, firstly, for the time being anyway, She’s not for sale. Secondly, I have a sneaky suspicion I would not struggle to sell her either.. And here lieth the rub.

    Decent 75’s are very slowly gathering momentum in value, not sky rocketing by any means but nice usable ones attract a level of cult ownership. There has been one or two mootings in recent weeks to sell the car, and I have so far rebuffed those advances.

    Bringing to your attention the line you quote ‘even minor repairs are worth more than it is’ – well Marty B thats life in motors generally. Visit your local breakers and take a wander round and spot late Vectra’s or 10 year old Mondeo’s both with munched clutches being the only reason they have been thrown away!

    Yes, the Clock photo was indeed a doff of the cap to the old world charm, but the retro styling is what I adore, though once I found it a bit Murray Mintish.

    I like tea – you may like coffee… and so on – all down to personal taste, and on a personal note, the 75 agrees with my pallate.

  28. Marty B – comment 44

    “when even minor repairs are more than it is worth”

    As Mike points out, that’s older cars in general. Also, this comment highlights my thinking behind my 75 purchase. I didn’t just want a 75. There was sense in buying one. Funds were limited, so the car I chose had to be quite old. I wanted a car which would have long term appeal, a car which would be worth spending money repairing once pure financial logic dictated otherwise. The 75 fitted the bill perfectly.

    Also, as Mike says, the car is already attracting a level of cult ownership.

    I’ve said it often before – “just think what crap my £2500 could have bought”

  29. Dear Sir, may I merely remark here and now, how much I have enjoyed reading your piece on your 75. I stumbled across this article during a nostalgic google search on 75s, as I used to own one and loved it dearly. Like you, I have always been old before my time. At the age of 20 I was driving the car of my dreams, a sumptuous gold 75 Club CDT. As a 21 year old, I can only look back at the pictures and videos I have of the time when I was driving it, and almost (I exaggerate not) weep, when luxuriating in the gorgeous leather seats, windows down, blasting ‘And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England’s mountains green’ from the six speaker stereo. Breathing in the atmosphere and smell of the interior, appreciating fully the last hurrah of the British motoring industry. Since 75s began wafting along our roads, I knew from the first moment I clapped eyes on one that one day I would own one. Admittedly I had jumped the gun by part exchanging my mk4 fiesta for the 75. It may have had a significant history before it fell into my hands, but fate did not prevent me from getting fantastic use out of it before I passed it on to a fellow enthusiast. Today I drive a 45. My friends often remark that I got the order wrong – i.e. I should have whizzed around in a 25 during my late teens, bought a 45 to act as a practical middle stone for my 20s and then retire into the sumptuous interior of the 75 later in my life. Needless to say I love rovers, always have and always will. I now drive a beautiful sky blue 45 with less than 25k on the clock. The pre-facelift look of the 25, 45, 75 range is with out a doubt the most stunning look that Rovers displayed in the later years of the company, and in my mind, one of the most distinctive and attractive appearances visible on the roads today.

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